Review: Philomena (12A)

As she approaches her 79th birthday, national treasure Dame Judi Dench looks certain to be gifted a seventh Oscar nomination for her tour-de-force portrayal of a guilt-stricken mother in Philomena.

It’s a compelling performance of deep emotion based on a true story that deftly tugs the heartstrings without resorting to emotional manipulation or cloying sentiment.

Dench is complemented by Steve Coogan as a cynical and world-weary journalist, who initially scoffs at the suggestion that he should pen an article about the matriarch and her heartbreaking ordeal.

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The tender and touching relationship that forms between these two characters from different generations and backgrounds provides Stephen Frears’s uplifting film with its emotional thrust, as the search for answers moves between continents.

Coogan’s script, co-written by Jeff Pope, is lean and peppered with earthy humour. The road trip begins when Jane Lee (Anna Maxwell Martin) discovers her mother Philomena (Dench) fell pregnant as a teenager in 1952 Ireland and was forced to give up the baby to the sisters at Roscrea Abbey. Jane pitches the story to former Labour advisor turned BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith (Coogan) who agrees to help Philomena track down her boy.

Directed with a light and assured touch by Frears, Philomena celebrates the power of hope to heal old wounds.

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